Kampot is a sleepy riverside town a few hours outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s close enough to Sihanoukville to reach in the same day if you happen to fly into Sihanoukville but want to skip the city itself. In recent years Kampot is establishing itself as a great holiday destination, with more accommodation, restaurants, and activities on offer than ever before.
We decided last minute to completely avoid Sihanoukville and attempt a direct transfer from the airport to Kampot. Luckily there was no shortage of taxi operators willing to make the 2-hour journey and if you choose a mid-sized vehicle (suitable for 4 people with luggage) you should pay around USD 40-50 for the trip.
Below are some fun activities to do in and around Kampot based on our own experiences. Kampot was our first stop in Cambodia and we really came to like the town and enjoyed our stay there. For us, it was the perfect balance of some comforts of the western world emerged in the wonderful Cambodian culture. If you enjoy a laid back atmosphere, a variety of outdoor adventures, good food and just getting off the beaten path, then we can highly recommend adding Kampot to your Cambodia itinerary.
WALK OR CYCLE AROUND KAMPOT’S CITY CENTER
It’s easy enough to rent a bicycle and cycle around not only the inner city of Kampot but even a fair distance out into the countryside, depending on just how fit you are. It’s a great way to explore, a practical way to get around and also a fun way to enjoy nature. To be honest, though, the city centre is small enough that it can be easily explored on foot too - and this is mostly what we did. We also rented a scooter to explore further into the countryside, but more on that later.
Within Kampot’s City Center, you should keep an eye out for the following spots, none of which are spectacular on their own, but which do make for a nice walking/cycling tour:
The Fish Market - built on the riverside in the 1930s, restored in 2016 as a fancy restaurant and no longer an actual Fish Market!
The Old Market or Old Market Square - where you will now find lots of small shops, including tour agencies, trinket stores, convenience stores and a few really cheap eateries.
The Durian roundabout - exactly what its name suggests, a large traffic roundabout with an enormous Durian fruit in the centre! This is also where you will often find night market stalls set up.
Old Royal Cinema - this is now a quaint trinket shop, but the remains of the old building can still be seen.
The Salt Workers roundabout - another traffic roundabout with a statue dedicated to the Salt Workers in the centre!
The Lotus Pond - This will no doubt be more photographic when the lotus flowers are in bloom, but when we were there it was a little disappointing.
National Bank of Cambodia - with its distinct architecture from the French colonial period.
PHNOM BOKOR NATIONAL PARK AND MOUNT BOKOR
The vast 140 000 hectares that make up this national park are diverse and somewhat intriguing. You will find historic relics (both abandoned and some being restored), fully functioning temples, incredible views and unspoilt nature, the odd ridiculously large and opulent hotel and casino and plenty of in-process development, all within the confines of the Phnom Bokor National Park. There is no entry fee for Phnom Bokor National Park and it is without a doubt the single best day trip you can make from Kampot. The total distance all the way to the top of Mount Bokor is only about 40km from Kampot’s city centre and will take you just over an hour one way - in good weather. We spent the better part of a day riding around the expansive park and could easily have stayed longer and explored more of the are - particularly if you also want to do some hiking. We enjoyed having the freedom of a scooter and riding the winding roads was pure joy - surprisingly of high quality for Cambodian standards! Be cautious, however, if you are not entirely comfortable riding on two wheels. And make sure to wear a helmet!
The park features breathtaking natural vistas from multiple spots, if you’re looking for clear skies, be sure to visit in the early morning as the mist and clouds tend to gather later in the afternoon, which gives an interestingly eerie feel to the place! There is no single lookout point and we found the best views to be from behind the Bokor Church and from Pram Pagoda. There are also plenty of places to stop along the road on the way up Bokor Mountain. The park claims to be/have been home to an amazing array of wildlife including foxes, tigers and even elephants. The only wildlife that we saw was a naughty monkey at the statue of Lok Yeay Mao.
The Popokvil Waterfall drops from the top of the Bokor Mountain and is a popular spot for locals to picnic and relax. The waterfall was very dry when we were there so it was less spectacular as a waterfall, but it was still a nice place to relax in the shade and enjoy the slight coolness.
Bokor Lake is another odd place within the park. Here we found people camping, fishing and picnicking. You can even rent a silly swan pedal boat for some fun!
There are numerous “sights” to see all around the park, depending on how much time you have. We would recommend at least seeing the following:
Statue of Lok Yeay Mao - an ancient mythical heroine and Buddhist divinity who died at sea on the way to visit her husband and who is now believed to look out and guard over travellers of the sea.
The Abandoned Black Palace - just opposite the statue of Lok Yeay Mao, wander through these two abandoned buildings for an eerie feel and some cool photo opportunities.
The Old Catholic Bokor Church - built on the top of Bokor Mountain by the French in the mid-1970s to accommodate Khmer Rouge soldiers.
Le Bokor Palace - Currently the most opulent hotel within the park and the only fancy restaurant you can visit for lunch.
The remains of King Norodom Sihanouk’s Black Palace
Thansur Sokha Bokor Highland Resort and Casino - an enormous monstrosity of a development which just doesn’t fit into its surrounds!
Wat Sampov Pram Pagoda - an interesting area to stroll around and one of the best panoramic viewpoints.
Popokvil Waterfall - worth a visit, but much better in the wet season when there is more water, making the waterfall rather spectacular.
Within the Phnom Bokor National Park, Popokvil Waterfall drops from the top of the Bokor Mountain and is a popular spot for locals to picnic and relax. The waterfall was very dry when we were there so it was less spectacular as a waterfall, but it was still a nice place to relax in the shade and enjoy the slight coolness. Definitely worth a visit while in the park, but preferably in the wet season when there is more water, making the waterfall utterly spectacular.
VISIT THE PEPPER PLANTATIONS
You can’t visit Kampot without visiting a pepper plantation! The province’s lush green hills and proximity to the sea have been known to create an ideal environment for pepper plantations to thrive. Historically, pepper from Kampot was world-renowned. Unfortunately during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s most crops were decimated. Today the pepper industry is reemerging, regaining its fame and helping to revive the region. We visited La Plantation, which offers really impressive free guided tours. The tours are fun and informative, including a walk through the plantations and ending with a very comprehensive pepper tasting. Make sure that you have some water with you, although enjoyable, the pepper tasting can be rather intense! You can get there by motorbike or by tuk-tuk from both Kampot or Kep (similar distance). The roads along the way are dusty and bumpy but absolutely stunning in terms of scenery. La Plantation also serves lunch at their own restaurant and you can buy any variety of pepper fresh from the source after your tasting. This was a really fun day learning about pepper production.
SAVOUR AUTHENTIC KAMPOT CUISINE
There is no shortage of good and affordable restaurants in Kampot. If you’d like to learn a little more about the cuisine, visit the shabby Khmer Root Café. Surrounded by the untouched countryside of Kampot and on the edge of the Brateak Krota Lake, this family-run restaurant offers traditional dishes and great flavours. The open kitchen allows you to take a glimpse at the chefs at work or you could take one of their regular cooking classes to better understand the techniques of the regional cooking.
PHNOM CHHNGOK CAVE TEMPLE
The ride through the countryside to the caves is possibly more enjoyable than the caves themselves. That being said, for a $1 pp entry fee, you can climb the stairs up to a stunning viewpoint over the Cambodian farmlands and then continue down into the main Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple. Here you will find a small brick Temple within the cave, built in the Funan style. There is also a pretty cool elephant-shaped stalactite at the entrance to the cave. Apparently, you can take a guided tour through the caves, but we have heard negative reports with regards to safety within the caves. The offered guides are mostly children who skip school to do this and earnt tips, which we prefer not to encourage.
RIDE THE CRAB SHUTTLE
This can be done either from Kampot (more popular) or from Kep. It’s a great way to enjoy the small section of Cambodian coastline and admire the picturesque scenery. The Crab Shuttle runs regularly between Kampot and Kep and with the option of going via Rabbit Island, one way or return journey. You can either just enjoy the ride, use it as a mode of transportation between Kampot and Kep or make a full day activity of it, relaxing on the water, stopping off at beaches and having a tasty Cambodian lunch as part of the experience.
KAYAKING THE GREEN CATHEDRAL
Not many people have time to do this, but if you do have time, it is a great escape into the nature of Cambodia. The Green Cathedral is named after the canopy of green that covers you as you kayak through the serene, narrow channels surrounding a small island in the river. You’ll need to start by making your way to Champa Lodge, about 20 minutes from Kampot city centre, by motorbike or tuk-tuk. There you can rent kayaks and life jackets and they will give you some advice on the route. It takes about one to two hours, depending on your pace and how many detours into the narrow channels you take. The water is calm and kayaking is not too strenuous. Late afternoon is a good time to go. When you get back to Champa Lodge you can sit out on the deck overlooking the river and enjoy a drink and enjoy the sunset.
BRATEAK KROTA LAKE (SECRET LAKE)
Brateak Krota Lake is no secret at all! It’s a rather large lake in the vicinity of Khmer Root Café, La Plantation and Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple. Be sure to take the small detour to ride along the water’s edge and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds the area. There is also a small outcropping of a hill with a temple at the top which is worth climbing up to for a view out over the lake.
RELAX WITH A CHEAP DRAFT BEER
Kampot has many streetside cafes with really cheap draft beers! You can easily spend a couple of hours just relaxing, enjoying a cool one while watching the locals and tourists go about around you. Our favourite place was “The Family Bar” where we could sit comfortably in the shade and watch the world go by!
ENJOY SUNSET ALONG THE RIVER
You don’t need to go someplace fancy to enjoy the sunset in Kampot. Either take a leisurely stroll all along the wide riverside promenade or find yourself a spot along the river to sit and watch the sunset and the people passing by. You could even be prepared with a picnic or at least a cold beer from a convenience store. After sunset, the lights on either side of the river and on the adjoining bridges come on to transform the river into a night-time spectacle.
TRY KHMER CUISINE
There is absolutely no shortage of restaurants in Kampot, most of which are pretty affordable and offer delicious traditional Khmer dishes. We enjoyed “Happy Special Pizza” as they had great food, good service and a lovely view across the river. Some of our favourite dishes there were the fried eggplant, the cashew tofu and the crispy sesame beef. Take a look at our article “Cambodian Cuisine” for more inspiration on what you should try in Cambodia!
ENJOY SOME WESTERN LUXURY
After spending 8 months in Asia, we were really excited by the delicious western breakfasts served by “Kampot Pie & Ice Cream Palace”. They bake their own bread and a wide range of sweet delights too. Great spot for people watching while you sip on a smoothie or iced coffee.
NEAREST BEACH TO KAMPOT
They are currently working on closer beaches, but for now, the closest beach worth visiting is in Kep, just 23km away. So if you are staying in Kampot for a while and are yearning for a beach, this is easily reached by means of your own transportation in about half an hour. The Kep beach is sandy with plenty of vendors for snacks, beach chairs and shade. Personally, we didn’t find the water all that appealing for swimming, although most locals seemed to be enjoying the warm, shallow and calm waters.